Open Course Design & Assessment

Open Course Design

Designing for Open

“Designing for open learning environments is like weaving a web of connections between people, resources and networks … ”
— Stephen Downes
Designing for open is an exciting process that is grounded in the theory of connectivism . Open courses are purposefully designed to facilitate learning and achieve learning outcomes in ways that provide opportunities for learners to make connections with others in social ways — and through shared social platforms — while enabling them to choose their own paths and follow their own interests. As Stephen Downes explains in his presentation entitled “Design Elements in a Personal Learning Environment,” there are four key design principles — autonomy, openness, diversity and interactivity — that support connectivist practice that can be used as a foundational framework when designing for open. The video below outlines an example of how one group has successfully applied the principles of this framework to intentionally design an open course.

Open Course Design by Potentially Coherent is licensed under a CC BY.

Transcript – Open Course Design

Extend Activity

​Extend Connections

  • Have you ever intentionally designed a lesson or course through the backward-design process?
  • Did you notice a difference in engagement when the assessments and end result were considered first?
  • How did this impact the success of the lesson?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework that has been developed through evidence-based research to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn (CAST, 2018). By applying the principles of UDL, courses are designed for flexibility from the outset to avoid having to make major alterations to the course design after the fact. Course design through a UDL lens helps reduce barriers to learning and helps facilitate meaningful participation by all students. Take a look at the video below for an introduction to UDL in higher education and to learn more about why it is so important for our students. You may also learn more about UDL in higher education at the UDL On Campus site.


UDL in Higher Education by UDL on Campus is licensed under a CC BY.

Transcript – UDL in Higher Education

UDL Guidelines

This all sounds really important. Where can I learn more about inclusive and accessible design?

Take a look at the Inclusive Design page of the “Open Content” module of this book!

The UDL Guidelines are a set of concrete suggestions that can be applied to any discipline or domain to ensure all learners can access and participate in meaningful, challenging learning opportunities. The UDL Guidelines are expressed visually in a graphic organizer — a valuable interactive tool that can be used to help generate ideas on how to incorporate the principles of UDL into your curriculum.

Below are the three key categories of the guidelines — the “what,” the “why” and the “how” of learning. There is also a helpful video by one of the founders of the CAST network, David Rose, which explains how to use the graphic organizer to maximize learning for all students (see below). UDL is just one practice that can be incorporated in course design to create a more inclusive classroom.


The “What” of Learning

For purposeful, motivated learners, stimulate interest and motivation for learning.




The “Why” of Learning

For resourceful, knowledgeable learners, present information and content in different ways.




The “How” of Learning

For strategic, goal-directed learners, differentiate the ways that students can express what they know.

Action & Expression


Adapted from UDL Guidelines by CAST under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) license.

Watch “UDL Guidelines Structure” on YouTube (transcript available)

Dig Deeper? Designing for Open Pedagogy

If you would like to learn more about designing for open pedagogy, have a look at the following video. You may also access the slide deck of the “Designing for Open Pedagogy” presentation (download available).

This video is a free and open webinar about designing for open pedagogy hosted by the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources (CCCOER).  The concept of open pedagogy was first introduced by Lumen Learning co-founder David Wiley as a way to capture how the use of OER can change educational practices. He shares that using OER in the same way as traditional textbooks is like driving an airplane down a road — it is missing out on what open can provide for student and teacher collaboration, engagement and learning.

This webinar highlights the experiences of two professors who have not only adopted OER, but who have redesigned courses with the principles of open pedagogy. Although reduced cost is what originally attracted them to using OER, involving their students in creating and evaluating OER course materials has significantly increased student engagement and critical thinking. As a result of this approach, their courses are continually updated and improved.

Watch “Designing for Open Pedagogy with CCOER” on YouTube (transcript available)




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Extending Into the Open Copyright © 2022 by Paula Demacio; Alissa Bigelow; Tricia Bonner; and Shauna Roch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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